Forty years after its Off Broadway premiere, Earl Wilson, Jr.’s musical, “Let My People Come,” still has audiences snickering and blushing at its frank sexual content.
This weekend, the show celebrates that landmark anniversary in a new production at Andrews Living Arts (ALA).
For ALA director Robert Nation, the production is special. Nation first saw the show as a young man in New York and went on to serve as stage manager for a Philadelphia production soon after.
“The show is a potpourri of everything we laugh about behind closed doors,” said Nation, “and, of course, there is nudity.”
When it comes to sexuality, no topic is off limits with songs that continue to poke fun at societal sexual morays four decades later.
Among Nation’s favorites is “Fellatio 101,” an instruction in the art of oral sex offered by a teacher performed in drag. The teacher hands the “students” bananas to practice and reminds them to peel them because they’re not Jewish (circumcised).
Other songs celebrate gay and lesbian sex, perhaps the only topic that is talked about more openly since the musical’s premiere.
The biggest difference over the years is in how young people court each other.
“I’m also a teacher and what I’ve found in high school is kids are driven by their cell phones,” Nation said. “Relationships are started and ended with texting. Touch, eyesight, smell and tone of voice are lost. We are losing those senses when it comes to our sexuality.”
To open the production, Wilson, will be in Fort Lauderdale, rekindling a friendship Nation struck with the composer and lyricist decades earlier.
“He’s a pretty important person to have in our little town of Fort Lauderdale and a little theater like mine,” explained Nation.
One of the strengths of the show, Wilson said in a telephone interview from his Fort Lauderdale hotel room, is its continuing evolution.
“It’s been in development for 40 years,” said Wilson. “I’ve added and taken away from it, it’s never the same thing twice.”
Wilson still enthusiastically recalls the origins of the show: Nudity was still novel on Broadway with the success of “Hair” and “Oh, Calcutta!” and one of the producers called Wilson and dared him to write his most outrageous song about sex in just 30 minutes.
“I had a wonderful affair with a woman he had introduced me to a year earlier and thought about a situation that happened with this woman,” Wilson said. “It was such an enlightening and enriching experience, I wrote it down and ran to his apartment with the tape recorder.”
That song? “Come in My Mouth.”
“We treated the whole thing as a joke. We just did it one song at a time,” he said, but soon the project was becoming serious.
“Oh, Calcutta!” had been written by famous Broadway talent who refused to have their real names attached to the show, and once Wilson committed to finishing the project, he needed a cast to inspire the remaining songs.
Knowing some of the performers might balk at appearing on stage naked, he invited them to his parents’ home for a rehearsal and greeted them in the living room at the piano in his birthday suit.
“Half took their clothes off at the door and the other half refused,” he said.
The cast worked out their own issues and the show opened to sold out audiences at the small Village Gate theater in Manhattan. The cast album earned Wilson a Grammy nomination and the show would tour the world for 20 years.
And now the show is seeing new life, first at Andrews Living Arts and next year in a big Las Vegas production.
“Let My People Come” will be performed at Andrews Living Arts, 23 NW 5th Ave. in Fort Lauderdale, Thursdays – Saturdays at 8 p.m. through Aug. 30. Tickets are $29.95 and can be reserved by calling 800-838-3006.